When you get an incoming call from a number you don’t recognize, do you answer or ignore it? Do your eyes glaze over your emails as you methodically tap unsubscribe links and send message after message straight to the trash?
A new shared human experience has uncomfortably settled into our lives: the frustration of receiving spam and scam messages. We get more calls from robots than we do from friends and family, and our email inboxes are flooded with messages that we don’t want.
We relate to one another about our feelings toward robocalls, spam and scam attempts, but we also share how these unwanted communications have shifted our behavior toward the mediums that deliver them. Email and phone calls used to be a favored way to connect with one another, but now? We find ourselves groaning when the phone rings and most of the emails we get we don’t even read.
Unwanted messages affect everyone, and because they affect consumers directly, it’s changed how businesses can get in touch with their audience. So with help from SurveyMonkey, we polled consumers to find out how unwanted messages have changed their relationships with phone calls, email and text messaging and to learn what habits they’ve formed because of it.
Terms to know
- Spam: Unsolicited marketing from a legitimate business.
- Scam: Messages designed to trick you into giving money or sharing personal information that can be used to steal money or your identity.
- Robocalls: Automated phone calls usually with a recorded voice message on the other line. Robocalls can be considered spam, and many scams are carried out via robocalls.
Consumers get the most spam and scam attempts over phone calls and email
Survey respondents reported receiving both spam and scam messages the most via phone calls and in their email inboxes: 51% said they receive spam “often” over the phone and the number jumps to 70% for email, while scams were reported “often” for phone and email at 43% and 46%, respectively.
Robocalls are at an all-time high
Our results reflect what many of us already know to be true – robocalls are out of control. Half of all calls are expected to be spam robocalls in 2019, and in October alone robocalls hit a record high of 5.7 billion calls.
Controlling robocall volume is a massive undertaking, and everyone is attempting to solve the problem – from government agencies and major mobile carriers to third-party apps and even the general public:
35% of our survey respondents say they’ve reported a robocall to the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) or their network carrier.
The number speaks to how fed up we are given that we are pausing time in our day to report them, either by filling out a form, like this one from the FCC, or going through a step-by-step process from the FTC.
You’ve likely Googled how to stop robocalls and already know the number one tip: Don’t answer your phone. But with or without the direct advice, we’re all doing it anyway. Thanks to robocalls, we’ve been conditioned to not answer our phones anymore if we don’t know who is calling.
Email inboxes are still inundated with spam
Robocalls may feel like the bane of our existence, but our email inboxes still face the brunt of spam attacks. In March 2019, spam messages made up 56% of global email traffic. Spam filters spare us from seeing most of it, conveniently sending suspicious messages straight to our junk folders. Despite the buffer, our survey shows that consumers still find it tough to keep our inboxes clean from scam and spam messages.
42% of consumers find it difficult to unsubscribe from emails, and 54% said they use a separate email address to avoid spam in their main email address.
Under the CAN-SPAM Act, it should be easy for consumers to remove themselves from an email subscriber list. And the fact that more than half of our respondents have a separate email address to manage spam is noteworthy. We have tools and laws to keep email spam away, but things could be better for consumers.
Our inboxes are overwhelmingly full, so we don’t think to check them right away or bother to read some messages at all. Thanks to overuse and spam abuse, we’ve learned not to see our email inboxes as a priority.
Why isn’t texting stuffed with spam and scam messages?
Only 18% of respondents said they get text spam “often” and only 17% said they receive scam attempts “often.” Most said they “rarely” receive these types of messages (41% and 40% for spam and scam, respectively).
Despite being a nearly 30-year-old medium, texting has managed to remain a relatively low outlet for spammers. According to the FCC, only 2.8% of all text messages are spam. Texting open rates have hovered around 98% because it remains a trustworthy communication medium. We know that, for the most part, we’ll only get texts from people or businesses we care about.
And we can expect spam numbers to remain low thanks to a recent FCC ruling. Left mostly unregulated for its lifespan, text messages are now officially classified as an information service. The classification allows network carriers to continue protecting their customers from spam and scam robotexts. If texts had been classified as a telecommunication service like phone calls, carriers would have had little control over malicious messages and our text inboxes might look like our email inboxes today.
The value of being able to identify yourself to your customers when you first contact them
If an incoming call is from an unknown number, 92% of our survey respondents said they ignore it and 69% are likely to Google the phone number to find out who it is. It’s not surprising given the increase in the number of unwanted calls consumers have received over the last decade – 83% of respondents said they’ve noticed an increase in the number of robocalls in the last year.
If our caller ID can’t give us a heads up, we’re not going to answer our phones. Seventy-seven percent of those surveyed said that one of the reasons why they ignore calls is because they’re worried about robocalls, spam or scams.
Unless a customer has your number saved in their phone, they can’t tell it’s you. They might eventually call you back if you leave a voicemail (given that they listen to it), but you could end playing phone tag trying to catch one another at a good time. If a business can identify themselves up front, a customer may be more likely to answer the call on the first go.
Emails, of course, allow you to identify yourself, but the everyday consumer isn’t likely to see your message right away, and if their inbox is really stuffed, they may not see it at all.
That’s why texting can be a powerful way to get your customers’ attention. We see new text messages almost immediately, and because businesses can identify themselves easily in that message, consumers are more likely to reply quickly. (In a separate Zipwhip survey, we found that 83% of consumers respond to text messages within 30 mins or less.)
In terms of efficiency, a text message can save time for your business and strengthen customer satisfaction.
Let’s continue to keep spam out of texting
Remember once upon a time when you’d race to answer the phone? Or the excitement you felt when you’d hear the words “You’ve got mail!” Those feelings may be long gone with email and phone calls, but the same can’t be said for the text message.
Texting is the most widely used feature on our smartphones. It’s a personal medium that is second to face-to-face interactions, and it’s how we prefer to keep up with friends and family. We can even maintain inbox zero because we actually open every message that comes through. Texting is the modern way to communicate and to see it polluted with spam, like email and phone calls, would transform the beloved medium into another “thing” that we routinely ignore.
We know that texts offer a reliable avenue for friends and family to stay in touch, and the same can be said for businesses and customers. Businesses just have to do their part to maintain the purity of the texting medium by practicing good habits:
- Get permission before you text
- Ensure texts remain relevant to the consumer
- Send them infrequently
- Allow customers to easily unsubscribe
These are just a few ways to keep your business in good standing with customers.
Use texting to reach your customers on the first try
When customers ignore your communications, you waste time with back and forth follow-ups. Getting their attention on the first attempt is hard to do with a phone call or an email in today’s spam-ridden environment.
Texting breaks through the noise for two reasons. One, businesses can identify themselves up front, and two, consumers prefer a text message when communicating with businesses because it’s convenient.
Texting isn’t going to replace phone calls and emails; the three are meant to work together. There are many use cases that can be applied to texting, but one way to think about it is simply as an alert system. Need a customer to fill out a form you just emailed them? Text your customer that it’s waiting in their inbox. Want to find out a good time to have a phone call? Ask your customer via text when they prefer to chat.
Spam, scams and robocalls may have altered our view of phone calls and emails, but texting can remain a trustworthy and effective communication tool for businesses as long as we continue to use it correctly.
For tips on how your business can start connecting with your audience, download our free e-book The Ultimate Guide to Texting Your Customers.
And to learn more about how Zipwhip is doing its part to keep spam and scam attempts out of text messaging, check out the following content:
- There’s a Lot of SMS Spam out There — Here’s How Zipwhip Protects You from It
- Dozens of Spam Text Messages Are Sent to You Every Day – You Just Don’t Know It
- Podcast: Fraud, Spam and Texting-for-Business Best Practices
We surveyed 529 consumers for the purpose of this blog post. We surveyed each participant individually and blindly from a purchased panel sample through SurveyMonkey. All respondents are from the United States and took the survey in November 2019. None were compensated for their participation.